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Full text of "President Harding's address at the dedication of the Lincoln memorial, Washington, D. C., 30 May, 1922"

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Lincoln Jlemorial 

iBas!f)ington, B. C. 
30 iflap 1922 



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Mr. Chief Justice : 

It is a supreme satisfaction officially to accept on behalf of the 
Government this superb monument to the savior of the republic. 
No official duty could be more welcome, no official function more 
pleasing. This memorial edifice is a noble tribute, gratefully be- 
stowed, and in its offering is the reverent heart of America; in its 
dedication is the consciousness of reverence and gratitude beautifully 

Somehow my emotions incline me to speak simply as a reverent and 
grateful American rather than one in official resj)onsibility. I am 
thus inclined because the true measure of Lincoln is in his place 
toda}' in the heart of American citizenship, though more than half a 
century has passed since his colossal service and his martyrdom. In 
every moment of peril, in every hour of discouragement, whenever 
the clouds gather, there is the image of Lincoln to rivet our hopes and 
to reneAv our faith. Whenever there is a glow of triumph over 
national achievement, there comes the reminder that but for Lincoln's 
heroic and unalterable faith in the Union, these triumphs could not 
have been. 

No great character in all history has been more eulogized, no 
towering figure more monumented, no likeness more portrayed. 
Painters and sculptors portray as they see, and no two see precisely 
alike. So, too. is there varied emphasis in the portraiture of words; 
but all are agreed about the rugged greatness, the surpassing tender- 
ness, the unfailing wisdom of this master martyr. 

History is concerned with the things accomplished. Biography 
deals with the methods and the individual attributes which led to 

The supreme chapter in history is not emancipation, though that 
achievement would have exalted Lincoln throughout all the ages. 
The simple truth is that Lincoln, recognizing an established order, 
would have compromised with the slavery that existed, if he could 
have halted its extension. Hating human slavery as he did, he 
doubtless believed in its ultimate abolition through the developing 
conscience of the American people, but he would have been the last 
man in the Republic to resort to arms to effect its abolition. Eman- 
cipation was a means to the great end — maintained union and 
nationality. Here was the great purpose, here the towering hope, 

2354 — 22 (3) 

here the supreme faith. He treasured the inheritance handed down 
by the founding fathers, the ark of the covenant wrought through 
their heroic sacrifices, and builded in their inspired genius. The 
union must be preserved. It was the central thought, the unalter- 
able purpose, the unyielding intent, the foundation of faith. It 
was worth every sacrifice, justified every cost, steeled the heart 
to sanction every crimsoned tide of blood. Here was the great 
experiment — popular government and constitutional union — menaced 
by greed expressed in hmnan chattels. With the greed restricted 
and unthreatened. he could temporize. When it challenged federal 
authority and threatened the union, it pronounced its own doom. 
In the first inaugural, he quoted and reiterated his own oft-repeated 
utterance — " I have no purpose, directl}' or indirectly, to interfere 
with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I 
believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination 
to do so." He believed in maintaining inviolate the rights of the 
States, but he believed no less firmly in the perpetuity of the union 
of the States. The union, having been contracted, could not be dis- 
solved except by consent of all parties to the contract. He recog- 
nized the conflicting viewpoints, differing policies and controverted 
questions. But there were constitutional methods of settlement, and 
these must be employed. 

In the first inaugural address he stressed the great general prin- 
ciple that 

"• in our constitutional controversies we divide into majorities 
and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the 
majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no 
other alternative, for continuing the Government is acqui- 
escence on one side or the other. If the minority in such case 
will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which 
in turn will divide and ruin them. * * * Plainly the 
central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority 
held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and 
always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular 
opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free 
people. Whoever rejects it does, of necessity, fly to anarchy 
or despotism". 

Here spoke the statesman, proclaiming deliberate public opinion 
as the supreme power of civilization, easily to be written into law 
when conviction should command. It ought to be tonic to the waning 
confidence of those of today who grow impatient that emphasized 
minority views are not hurried into the majority expressions of the 
Republic. Deliberate public opinion never fails. 

Later, closing his first inaugural, when anxiety gripped the Na- 
tion, there spoke the generous, forgiving, sympathetic man of un- 
daunted faith : 

" I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We 
must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it 
must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of 
memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to 
every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, 
will yet swell the chorus of the union, when again touched, 
as they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature." 

But he appealed in vain. Passion was aflame and vvar was made 
the arbiter. Americans fought Americans with equal courage and 
valor. There was an ambiguity in the constitution, which only a 
baptism in blood could efface. One may only speculate on what 
another might have done, but Fate seems to have summoned the one 
gi"eat hero best fitted to lead to the union's salvation.' 

His faith was inspiring, his resolution commanding, his sympathy 
reassuring, his simplicity enlisting, his patience unfailing. He was 
Faith, Patience and Courage, with his head above the clouds, un- 
moved by the storms which raged about his feet. 

No leader was ever more unsparingly criticized or more bitterly 
assailed. He was lashed by angry tongues and ridiculed in presg 
and speech until he drank from as bitter a cup as was ever put to 
human lips, but his faith was unshaken and his patience never ex- 
hausted. Some one sent me recently an illumined and framed quota- 
tion which fell from his lips when the storm of criticism was at its 
height : 

" If I were trying to read," he said, " much less answer all 
the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for 
any other business. I do the best I know how, the very best 
I can ; and I mean to keep on doing it to the end. If the end 
brings me out all right, what is said against me will not amount 
to anything. If the end brings me out all wrong, ten angelp 
swearing I was right would make no difference." 

He knew, of course, before the assassin robbed him of fuller 
realization, that the end was bringing him out all right. He knew 
when swords were sheathed and gvms laid down, that the union he 
saved was riveted anew and made forever indissoluble. He knew 
that in the great crucible of fire and blood the dross had been burned 
from the misdirected patriotism of seceding states and the pure gold 
restored to shining stars in dear Old Glory again. He knew he had 
freed a race of bondmen and had given to the world the costly proof 
of the perpetuity of the American union. But I cannot restrain 
the wisli that he might somehow know of the monuments to his 
memory throughout the woild, and that we are dedicating todaj^. 

on behalf of a grateful nation, this matchless memorial, whose 
forty-eight columns, representing forty-eight states in the concord 
of union, testify that the "end brought him out all right ". 

Reflecting now on the lampooning and heedless attack and unjusti- 
fiable abuse which bruised his heart and tested his patience, we 
ma}' accept its expression as one of the abused privileges under 
popular government, when passion swaj's and bitterness inspires, 
but for which there is compensation in the assurance that when 
men have their feet firmly planted in the right, and do the very 
best they can and " keep on doing it ", they come out all right in the 
end. and all the storm does not amount to anything. 

He rose to colossal stature in a day of imperiled union. He first 
appealed, and then commanded, and left the union secure and the 
nation supreme. His was a leadership for a gi'eat crisis, made loftier 
because of the inherent righteousness of his cause and the sublimity 
of his OAvn faith. Washington inspired belief in the republic in its 
heroic beginning, Lincoln proved its quality in the heroic preserva- 
tion. The old world had wondered about the new-world experiment, 
and was quite ready to proclaim its futility when the civil war was 
threatening; but Lincoln left the union unchallenged for all succeed- 
ing time. Not only was our nation given a new birth of freedom, 
but democracy was given a new sanction by that liand of divinity 
itself which has written the rights of humankind and pointed the 
way to their enjoyment. 

Abraham Lincoln was no superman. Like the great Washington, 
whose monumental shaft towers nearby as a fit companion to the 
memorial we dedicate today, the two testifying the grateful love of 
all Americans to founder and savior — like Washington, Lincoln was 
a ver}' natural human being, with the frailties mixed with the virtues 
of humanity. There are neither supermen nor demi-gods in the 
government of kingdoms, empires, or republics. It will be better for 
our conception of government and its institutions if we will under- 
stand this fact. It is vastly greater than finding the superman if we 
justify the confidence that our institutions are capable of bringing 
into authority, in time of stress, men big enough and strong enough 
to meet all demands. 

Washington and Lincoln offered outstanding proof that a repre- 
sentative popular government, constitutionally founded, can find its 
own way to salvation and accomplishment. In the verj^ beginning 
our American democracy turned to Washington, the aristocrat, for 
leadership in revolution, and the greater task of founding permanent 
institutions. The wisdom of Washington and Jefferson and Hamil- 
ton and Franklin was proven when Lincoln, the child of privation, 
of hardship, of barren environment and meager opportunity, rose to 
unquestioned leadership when disunion threatened. 

Lincoln came almost as humbly as The Child of Bethlehem. His 
parents were unlettered, his home was devoid of every element of 
culture and refinement. He was no infant prodigy, no luxury facili- 
tated or privilege hastened his development, but he had a God-given 
intellect, a love for work, a willingness to labor and a purpose to 

Biographies differ about his ambition, but Herndon, who knew him 
as did no other, says he was greatly ambitious. I can believe that. 
Ambition is a commendable attribute, without which no man succeeds. 
Only inconsiderate ambition imperils. 

Lincoln was modest, but he was sure of himself, and always greatly 
simple. Therein was his appeal to the confidence of his country. 
When he believed he was right a nation believed him to be right, and 
offered all in his support. 

His work was so colossal, in the face of such discouragement, that 
none will dispute that he was incomparably the greatest of our 
Presidents. He came to authority when the Republic was beset by 
foes at home and abroad, and reestablished union and security. He 
made that gesture of his surpassing generosity which began reunion. 
Let us forget the treachery, corruption, and incompetence with which 
he had to combat, and recall his wisdom, his unselfishness, his sublime 
patience. He resented no calumnies upon himself; he held no man 
his enemy who had the power and will to serve the union, his vision 
was blinded by no jealousy. He took his advisers from among his 
rivals, invoked their patriotism and ignored their plottings. He 
dominated them by the sheer greatness of his intellect, the single- 
ness and honesty of his purpose, and made them responsive to his 
hand for the accomplishment of the exalted purpose. Amid it ail 
there was a gentleness, a kindness, a sympathetic sorrow, which 
suggest a divine intent to blend inercy with power in supreme 

This memorial, matchless tribute that it is, is less for Abraham 
Lincoln than for those of us today, and for those who follow after. 
His surpassing compensation would have been in living, to have his 
ten thousand sorrows dissipated in the rejoicings of the succeeding 
half century. He loved "his boys" in the Army, and would have 
reveled in the great part they played in more than a half century 
of the pursuit of peace, and concord restored. How he would have 
been exalted by the chorus of the union after " the mystic chords " 
were " touched by the better angels of our nature " ! How it would 
comfort his great soul to know that the States in the Southland join 
sincerely in honoring him, and have twice, since his day, joined, with 
all the fervor of his own great heart, in defending the flag ! How 
it would soften his anguish to know that the South long since 
came to realize that a vain assassin robbed it of its most sincere 

and potent friend when it was prostrate and stricken, when Lin- 
coln's S3'mpathy and understanding would have helped to heal the 
wounds and hide the scars and speed the restoration ! How with his 
love of freedom and justice, this apostle of humanity would have 
found his sorrows tenfold repaid to see the hundred millions to 
whom he bequeathed reunion and nationality, giving of their sons 
and daughters and all their fortunes to halt the armed march of 
autocracy and preserve civilization, even as he preserved the union ! 

More, how his great American heart would be aglow to note how 
resolutely Ave are going on. always on. holding to constitutional meth- 
ods, amending to meet the requirements of a progressive civilization, 
clinging to majority rule, properly restrained, which is " the only 
true sovereign of a free people," and working to the fulfillment of 
the destiny of the Avorld's greatest republic ! 

Fifty-seven years ago this people gave from their ranks, sprung 
from their own fiber, this plain man, holding their common ideals. 
They gave him first to service of the nation in the hour of peril, then 
to their Pantheon of Fame. With them and by them he is enshrined 
and exalted foreA'er. 

Today American gratitude, love and appreciation, give to Abra- 
ham Lincoln this lone white temple, a Pantheon for him alone. 


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